Bride of the Hunchback:
The Authorised Biography of Elsa Lanchester
Since 2003 I have been working on the first full-length biography of Elsa Lanchester, the actress best known for playing the title role in The Bride of Frankenstein. I created this page in November 2006, at which point I was about halfway through the book, in order to let Elsa fans know how the project was progressing. Realistically, it should be published - by Tomahawk Press - in 2008 or 2009.
Elsa Lanchester was born in London in 1902 and died in California in 1986, having become an American citizen in 1950. Between 1927 and 1980 she made 62 films as well as more than a hundred TV and radio shows. She also performed on stage in dramatic and comic plays, cabaret, revue and even classical ballet. In 1929 she married Charles Laughton and a year or so later he admitted to her that he was gay. However, the couple remained married until Laughton’s death in 1962. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, Elsa herself was not a lesbian nor even bisexual.
Elsa ‘wrote’ two books, although both were actually ghost-written. Charles Laughton and I, originally published as a serial in the Daily Express, covers only her life up to 1938 and gives equal weight to the life and career (to that point) of her husband. Elsa Lanchester Herself is nominally an autobiography but is, in fact, nothing of the sort. It is a biography of Laughton to which, when she could not find an interested publisher, Elsa added a few chapters about her own early life. The vast majority of Elsa’s life and work is not even mentioned in the book, which was published shortly before her death. Charles Laughton has also been the subject of commendable biographies by Charles Higham and Simon Callow, both of which understandably sideline Elsa somewhat.
Although there have been many magazine articles and occasional book chapters on Elsa, most of these simply summarised information from her own two books. No complete account of Elsa’s life and work has ever been published - a situation which I intend to resolve.
5th April 2009
Managed to bang out a solid 5,000 words and watched Frenchie. The book now stands at 63,000 words and is up to 1953. I estimate it will end up about 80-90,000 words.
26th July 2008
Added 3,000 words (a chapter and a bit).
23rd March 2008
Added a couple of thousand more words and watched The Secret Garden.
15th December 2007
Added about 2,300 words and watched The Bishop's Wife (suitably Christmassy).
7th November 2007
After far too long a gap, I spent a whole day on the book, adding 4,000 words.
4th February 2007
A solid day of writing. Added about 2,500 words. Would have been a bit more if I hadn't lost a bunch of stuff after lunch and had to retype it.
25th January 2007
Spent two days stuck in the BFI Library in London ploughing through old trade mags. You can only order three volumes at a time from the archive and usually each volume has one issue with one review with one sentence that mentions Elsa. It's monotonous but essential.
9th January 2007
Added another 3,000 words and watched Elsa in Buccaneer's Girl.
9th November 2006
Spent yesterday at the BFI library ploughing through back issues of Today's Cinema for reviews of Elsa's films. Also, two eBay goodies turned up today: a programme from Elsa Lanchester's Private Music Hall and a photo of Charles and Elsa at a party with Maureen O'Sullivan.
5th November 2006
Launched my Elsa Lanchester page. At this time, the completed parts of the book run to approximately 38,000 words. I’m working on Chapter 16 and have reached 1940.
Elsa Lanchester links
Elsa Lanchester filmography
Completed professional films only - Elsa also made several amateur films
- One of the Best (T Hayes Hunter)
- Blue Bottles (Ivor Montagu) - photo right
- Day-Dreams (Ivor Montagu)
- The Tonic (Ivor Montagu)
- The Constant Nymph (Adrian Brunel, 1928)
- Mr Smith Wakes Up (Jack Harrison)
- Comets (Sasha Geneen)
- Ashes (Frank Birch)
- The Stronger Sex (V Gareth Gundrey)
- The Love Habit (Harry Lachman)
- Potiphar's Wife aka Her Strange Desire (Maurice Elvey)
- The Officer's Mess (Manning Haynes, 1931)
- The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda)
- The Private Life of Don Juan (Alexander Korda)
- Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale)
- The Ghost Goes West (Rene Clair)
- Naughty Marietta (WS Van Dyke) - photo right
- David Copperfield (George Cukor)
- Rembrandt (Alexander Korda)
- Vessel of Wrath aka The Beachcomber (Erich Pommer)
- Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges)
- Ladies in Retirement (Charles Vidor)
- Tales of Manhattan (Julien Duvivier)
- Son of Fury aka The Story of Benjamin Blake (John Cromwell)
- Lassie Come Home (Fred M Wilcox)
- Thumbs Up (Joseph Santley)
- Forever and a Day (Rene Clair et al)
- Passport to Destiny aka Passport to Adventure (Ray McCarey)
- The Razor's Edge (Edmund Goulding)
- The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak)
- The Bishop's Wife (Henry Koster)
- Northwest Outpost aka End of the Rainbow (Allan Dwan)
- The Big Clock (John Farrow)
- The Inspector General (Henry Koster) - photo right
- Come to the Stable (Henry Koster)
- The Secret Garden (Fred M Wilcox)
- The Petty Girl aka Girl of the Year (Henry Levin)
- Mystery Street aka Murder at Harvard (John Sturges)
- Buccaneer's Girl (Frederick De Cordova)
- Frenchie (Louis King)
- Androcles and the Lion (Chester Erskine)
- Les Miserables (Lewis Milestone)
- Dreamboat (Claude Binyon)
- The Girls of Pleasure Island (Alvin Ganzer and F Hugh Herbert)
- Three Ring Circus aka Jerrico, the Wonder Clown (Joseph Pevney)
- Hell's Half Acre (John H Auer)
- The Glass Slipper (Charles Walters)
- Witness for the Prosecution (Billy Wilder)
- Bell, Book and Candle (Richard Quine)
- Pajama Party aka The Maid and the Martian (Don Weis) - photo right
- Mary Poppins (Robert Stevenson)
- Honeymoon Hotel (Henry Levin)
- That Darn Cat! (Robert Stevenson)
- Easy Come, Easy Go (John Rich)
- Blackbeard's Ghost (Robert Stevenson)
- Rascal (Norman Tokar)
- Me, Natalie (Fred Coe)
- Willard (Daniel Mann)
- Arnold (Georg Fenady)
- Terror in the Wax Museum (Georg Fenady)
- Murder by Death (Robert Moore)
- Die Laughing (Jeff Werner)